Shoppers can purchase Amazon.com merchandise displaying symbols of white supremacy, such as a swastika necklace, a baby onesie with a burning cross, and a child’s backpack featuring a neo-Nazi meme, all in contradiction of the retail giant's policy against selling products that promote hatred, according to a new report from two watchdog groups.
Amazon's policy says that “prohibited listings” on its website include “products that promote or glorify hatred, violence, racial, sexual or religious intolerance or promote organizations with such views.” But the report, to be released Friday by the Action Center on Race & the Economy and the Partnership for Working Families, argues that Amazon is failing to adhere to its own policy by allowing the sale of dozens of products in its online store as well as its publishing and music platforms that facilitate the spread of racist ideology.
“It’s clear that Amazon is bringing in money by propping up these hate organizations and allowing them to spread these messages in a moment of rising white nationalism and violence,” said Mariah Montgomery, campaign director for the Partnership for Working Families. The Action Center on Race & the Economy and the Partnership for Working Families are national nonprofit organizations that say they are focused on advancing racial and economic justice.
Montgomery said Amazon, which posted a record $3 billion in profits in 2017, should use its vast resources to curtail the dissemination of white supremacy, anti-Semitism and anti-Islam ideology “rather than seek to profit off hate.”
An Amazon spokesman said the company is in the process of removing some of the identified neo-Nazi bands from its music platform.
“Third-party sellers who use our Marketplace service must follow our guidelines, and those who don’t are subject to swift action, including potential removal of their account,” said Aaron Toso, an Amazon spokesman. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Among their most insidious findings, researchers said, are propaganda-emblazoned toys, books and other products targeting children that help normalize racist beliefs from a young age.
One book, a children’s fable by George Lincoln Rockwell, founder of the American Nazi Party, earned this five-star Amazon review: “Awesome work from a great man! This is great work for kids that are being brought up right! This is a great piece of Propaganda; it teaches our children to be careful and don’t let refugees in to your country. It shows . . . we are screwed by the colored birds!”
In addition to various Pepe the Frog-themed clothing and accessories — many explicitly referencing the neo-Nazi-appropriated meme of the cartoon frog — Amazon sold a fidget spinner that displayed the frog with a swastika across its belly. (That product was recently removed.)
“Hate movements really rely on symbolism to carry their ideologies and signal their belief systems to other members of their tribe,” said Carrie Sloan, research director for the Action Center on Race & the Economy. “It’s so easy to go to Amazon and get a backpack to signal that your kid is somehow connected to neo-Nazi and white-nationalist ideology.”
Or, she said, an unsuspecting parent could just as easily buy a backpack with the cartoon frog wearing an SS officer’s hat — advertised as “beautiful for girls” — “and your kid goes to school carrying this hate symbol on her back.”
The researchers found that Amazon continues to sell T-shirts and pins with Confederate flag imagery, despite the company's 2015 announcement that it would remove all Confederate-themed merchandise from its site following the Charleston church massacre of nine black parishioners by a white supremacist whose racist manifesto was littered with images of the flag.
The report also examined how white nationalist and anti-Muslim groups use Amazon’s e-book, self-publishing, music and Web services businesses to grow their movements.
As the country’s largest purveyor of e-books, Amazon provides such groups with a larger potential audience than they would otherwise have, the researchers said.
Counter-Currents Publishing, a white-nationalist publishing house, has 50 titles available on Kindle, the report said. For 99 cents each month, readers could also automatically download its blog posts, such as one espousing the importance of arriving at a “balanced view of Hitler.” Amazon had previously barred Counter-Currents, which promotes the creation of an all-white "homeland," from raising money through its affiliate marketing program.
Greg Johnson, Counter-Currents editor in chief, told The Washington Post in an email: “The most lethal books in history, in terms of the deeds they inspired in their followers, are surely the Bible, the Koran and the Communist Manifesto. If Amazon sells those books, it has no grounds to censor any other religious or political tracts."
Researchers said white-supremacist groups also use CreateSpace, Amazon’s self-publishing service for print books, to spread their messages despite content guidelines reserving the company’s right to reject “offensive materials.” One such novel, “White Apocalypse,” envisions a “reality in which Whites are the historical victims — and not the perpetrators — of genocide” and is dedicated to North America's “real Native Americans” — European whites — according to information about the book available on Amazon.
The researchers also found at least 11 bands identified as making hate music and four racist record labels — with a total of 48 albums — available for streaming or digital download on Amazon as of June. Some song titles have been abbreviated on Amazon Digital Music. For example, “Dirty W Whore” — listed elsewhere as “Dirty White Whore” — is a song about white women married to black men. “Unity” — otherwise known as “European Unity” — contains the lyrics “European unity, white power, pride and dignity.”
White-power music has become an effective recruitment tool for young people, Montgomery said.
The researchers said Amazon allowed R.A.C. Records, a distributor of racist music, T-shirts, flags and the white-power magazine Resistance, to maintain a storefront with more than 200 items for sale. Amazon says it removes items that violate their guidelines. The Post verified that the items were listed on the site as recently as Thursday morning but that the vast majority were deleted by the afternoon.
R.A.C. Records, in response to a Post inquiry through its website, said via email that the distributor is composed of numerous companies and individuals and that “we do not operate anything outside of our own shop and have never maintained accounts on any other sales platforms.” A person who identified himself as “Marcus” said the researchers characterizing R.A.C. Records as a hate group are “fake nonprofits” and “do not deal in truth.”
Earlier this year, Spotify announced new rules on “hate content,” after removing several white-supremacist bands from its catalogue. The music-streaming service said it has partnered with civil rights advocacy groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Anti-Defamation League and Muslim Advocates for help identifying such content. Apple iTunes has also pulled music by white-power groups after scrutiny by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2014.
On top of music, books and merchandise, the researchers said Amazon’s content delivery network, CloudFront, makes it easier for white-nationalist and anti-Muslim groups to publicize their messages on their websites. The report identified Counter-Currents Publishing as well as ACT for America, which the researchers and Muslim groups characterize as a national anti-Islam organization, as using CloudFront t0 deliver the contents of their websites.
ACT for America did not respond to a request for comment. The group bills itself as the “NRA of national security,” saying on its website that it does not “tolerate any bias, discrimination, or violence against anyone, based on their religion, gender, race, or political persuasion.” The website says it is focused on “confronting terrorism” by “those who seek to destroy our Western way of life,” such as “movements like radical Islam.”
“Amazon has become this sprawling company with lots of platforms to distribute information and products,” Montgomery said. “There’s a question on what Amazon’s oversight is — or isn’t. They need comprehensive measures to keep hate groups from disseminating their ideas.”
The researchers are calling upon the company to take action ensuring that it no longer profits from hate — or enables others to do so.
Among its recommendations: that Amazon develop more robust, transparent and consistent policies for all of its platforms in consultation with experts who study hate movements and symbols; destroy any merchandise displaying hate symbols in Amazon-controlled warehouses and distribution centers; remove racist electronic publications and “hatecore” music from its platforms; and develop better enforcement mechanisms to ensure that the company and its users and clients adhere to its policies.
“It's about investing the resources in developing better policies and enforcing them adequately,” Sloan said, “and making a public commitment to say that Amazon will not be used to spread these ideologies.”